Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Free concerts full of holes

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In August 2008, about 15,000 people stood in the pouring rain to watch Radiohead perform at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver. It was unrelenting Vancouver rain and soaked just about everyone I knew in attendance down to the bone. My sister's friend was going through chemotherapy at the time and risked catching a cold that could seriously compromise his recovery but he braved the rain anyway. That's what people do: they brave the weather, and risk their health for the bands they love.

Two months prior, I met my brother and two friends in Barcelona to watch the same band. We were travelling Europe anyway but we travelled to Barcelona specifically, spent hundreds of hard-earned dollars, to see Radiohead in Barcelona.

This happens every single year — thousands upon thousands flock to concerts and festivals in towns and cities that are not their own because they love music. Live music creates unique experiences that can, and often do, leave indelible marks on their psyches — many of them positive.

This has happened in Whistler. It happened last year, with the Barenaked Ladies and Sam Roberts. While these events did not put as many heads in beds as the RMOW and Tourism Whistler had expected, they were hugely successful in uniting thousands of bodies in one space in a positive way. People came from out of town to see this show.

Over the Canada Day weekend 2012, the RMOW hosted Dan Mangan, a rising Canadian star who has both plenty of hype and cultural relevance. He won two JUNO awards earlier this year. He's played frequently on Vancouver's 100.5 The Peak and CBC Radio 3. Last year, he played to a crowd of 20,000 to 25,000 people at Vancouver's free Summer Live concert series at Stanley Park — people who came specifically to see him, according to a spokesperson for the Vancouver Parks Board.

In Whistler? Mangan attracted 1,000 people, according to an official RMOW estimate. From the estimates of those in the audience, that number seemed about half that. Of course, in a town of 10,000 permanent residents, 500 people is a decent turnout. In Whistler Olympic Plaza, however — a venue that fits 8,000 — 500 people looks empty.

Mangan's performance, though never meant to drive visitors to Whistler, is part of Whistler Presents, a village-wide, multi-faceted arts and entertainment program aimed at both drawing in visitors and enhancing the experience for those that are already here. One of the goals is to increase positive media exposure and word of mouth but the pictures taken of the crowd from that event do not make Whistler Presents, or Whistler, look good.

When asked why the numbers were so low, a TW spokesperson blamed the rain — it also accounted for low visitation throughout Whistler — but, as I've said, people have braved worse weather for bands that they love. Is something else is amiss. Perhaps part of it is poor marketing: there has been no advertising about the concerts or Whistler Presents in any Lower Mainland media (or Whistler, for that matter) in the past two weeks. No one that I talked to (Dan Mangan fans, every one) had any idea that he was playing Whistler.

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